Nothing to See Here

A month ago, I was pretty discouraged with this year’s Tournament of Books line up. Everything I read from the shortlist was just … fine. Sometimes pretty good. Sometimes worth discussing. But nothing was knocking my socks off. Well, now, after Mary Toft, Girl Woman Other, Your House Will Payand Nothing to See Here, I can say that this year’s TOB has brought me four fantastic reads. (I have yet to read All This Could Be Yours and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.)

I freely admit that Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is completely ridiculous on multiple levels. And the children who catch on fire is probably the least ridiculous of the ridiculous things. Perhaps most ridiculous is the simple fact that fiery 10-year-old twins are placed in the care of 28-year-old Lillian, a childhood friend of their step-mother. Their father, Jasper Roberts, a senator from Tennessee, is likely to become the next Secretary of State, and he wants these troublesome kids kept out of the way, but their mother’s recent death has left him entirely responsible for them. That’s how Lillian gets involved. Madison, Jasper’s wife, went to boarding school with Lillian, and they’ve stayed in touch ever sense. For some reason, Madison decided Lillian was the right person to keep these children quietly cared for and secret for the summer, until some other arrangements could be made. It is a preposterous plan, not just because Lillian has shown no interest in children, much less children who spontaneously catch on fire.

But, here’s the thing, as ridiculous as it all is, it works. There’s an emotional truth inside this book that makes it work. Lillian and twins Bessie and Roland need each other. They have no reason to know it, but somehow the prickliness and desperation of all three characters comes together to make … maybe … a family. Lillian really doesn’t know what she’s doing, but she just does what she can thing of … then she does the next thing … and the next. It feels like how many (most) of us operate in the face of a crisis. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but a choice comes and we make it, and sometimes we surprise ourselves by getting it right. For Lillian, caring seems to be the key. She finally has someone to care about, and all her decisions come from that.

I also loved the way Wilson depicted Bessie and Roland. I’ve not been around 10-year-old recently enough to know how authentic these kids are, but they felt real. They observe and understand more than adults realize, but they’re still figuring out how to manage their feelings. They know that their life is badly off course, but they don’t know what to do about it any more than Lillian knows how to take care of kids. So they, like Lillian, just make the next choice, and the next.

There are also some interesting things going on here regarding class, money, and power, but none of that is as powerful to me as the key relationships in the book. I loved spending time with this trio in their little ridiculous and impossible world.

Posted in Contemporary, Fiction | 10 Comments

Your House Will Pay

Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay takes a nuanced look at the difficulties of living in a world filled with intergenerational racist violence. It tells this story through the lives of two characters who come at the problem from opposite sides. Shawn is a black man still grieving the death of his sister Ava, who was shot by a Korean woman who believed Ava was trying to rob her store. Grace is a Korean-American teenager who has grown up unaware of that history. Her main worry as the book begins is her sister Miriam’s estrangement from her parents for reasons Miriam will not explain.

Grace and Shawn have never had any reason to know each other. But a new act of violence puts them in each other’s orbit while bringing the past —  forgotten by some but never by others — back into the light.

With this story, Cha shows how the past remains with us, even when we choose to ignore it or are unaware of it. Grace doesn’t know anything about Ava’s death, for example, but the ramifications of it still touch her. She benefits from an injustice in the past without herself having committed that injustice. And Shawn suffers for it every day, although he hasn’t always handled his pain in the healthiest ways. It’s not easy to get past the past, and mistakes will happen, whether they come from wanting restitution or wanting absolution.

One of the things I loved about this book is how it manages to be big-hearted and grace-filled without getting soppy or treating forgiveness as an easy answer. This is not a book that pretends we can just hold hands and make things better. There are real injustices that require some kind of answer. But there’s also a sense here that resistance can be misdirected and the injustices compounded. When that happens, no progress can be made.

The book is not making an argument for non-violence exactly, but I think it is making an argument for thoughtfulness and care. It’s not a simple “both sides” argument where everyone can just stop fighting and call it peace. It this story, one side has done greater wrong and been supported by a system that refused to levy consequences. To decide to forget that and start fresh is itself an injustice. I like that the book doesn’t let its characters off easily, but it does offer hope, hope that comes with seeing people as individuals and recognizing the systemic wrongs that individuals get caught up in. It’s not tied up with a nice bow, but it is, ultimately, a hopeful book. I appreciate a hopeful book that doesn’t pretend that moving forward is easy.

Posted in Contemporary, Fiction | 7 Comments

In the Dream House

Bluebeard’s greatest lie was that there was only one rule: the newest wife could do anything she wanted—anything—as long as she didn’t do that (single, ordinary) thing; didn’t stick that tiny, inconsequential key into that tiny, inconsequential lock.

But was all know that was just the beginning, a test. She failed (and lived to tell the tale, as I have), but even if she’d passed, even if she’d listened, there would have been some other request, a little larger, a little stranger—and if she’d kept going—kept allowing herself to be trained, like a corset fanatic pinching her waist smaller and smaller—there’d have been a scene where Bluebeard danced around with the rotting corpses of his past wives clasped in his arms, and the newest wife would have sat there mutely, swallowing the egg of vomit that bobbed behind her breastbone.

In her memoir about an abusive relationship with a former girlfriend, Carmen Maria Machado draws on the imagery of fairy tales, as well as other genres, to show how her own supposed fairy tale in her supposed dream house fell apart.

Each short chapter (sometimes just a paragraph, rarely more than a page or two) looks at the dream house from a different angle. Dream House as Picaresque, as Daydream, as Lesson Learned, as Love Lucy, as Pop Single, as Choose Your Own Adventure. And so Machado proceeds in a roughly chronological order to chronicle how her own Bluebeard tested her again and again, creating a tense balance of happiness and terror that makes it impossible for Machado to leave. She also considers how abuse in lesbian relationships has been depicted in pop culture and in actual court cases.

The fragmented style worked well to keep this book from feeling like an unrelenting misery, and it does so without seeming to minimize the darkness in the actual relationship. The device provides a framework, a way to understand. Machado seems especially interested in fairy tales, and she notes throughout the book when some sort of fairy tale image or device (falling in love with person never seen, sickness or weakness for breaking taboo, ghost moans, flood from tears) appears in her own story. Abuse runs through all sorts of stories, and all sorts of stories can be wrapped inside an experience of abuse. And it doesn’t always seem clear when you’re on the inside.

Posted in Memoir, Nonfiction | Leave a comment

Girl, Woman, Other

Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize winning novel Girl, Woman, Other tells the stories of a series of characters, almost all of them Black women of varying social classes, backgrounds, ages, and sexualities. All of them individuals, all of them complex. She tells each story one at a time, with each new narrative focusing on a minor character from a previous section. As the book goes on, more and more connections between the characters emerge. This woman taught these characters in school. This woman is the grandmother of this nonbinary person. These two women went to school together. And on and on.

One of the wonderful things about this book is how beautifully it demonstrates that there is no single story of the Black woman’s experience in Britain. Although certain kinds of experiences and struggles come up regularly, when placed in context of a complete life, each experience is unique. And sometimes we’ll meet a character in one story and learn in a later chapter that we got a totally incomplete picture the first time, which is what happens when you only view people from a distance and through someone else’s eyes.

I think it’s possible to get really caught up in trying to put together all the connections between the characters (and this character map shows how complicated those connections are). For me, though, it was most rewarding just to look at the person Evaristo put in front of me in the moment and understand them as presented. Those other images of them in other chapters just provided some enjoyable texture.

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d get on well with Evaristo’s style. She doesn’t use standard punctuation or line breaks, as in the example below, from the first page:

   Amma
is walking along the promenade of the waterway that bisects her city, a few early morning barges cruise slowly by
to her left is the bend in the river as it heads past Waterloo Bridge towards the dome of St Paul’s
she feels the sun begin to rise, the air still breezy before the city clears up with heat and fumes
a violinist plays something suitably uplifting further along the promenade
Amma’s play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, opens at the National tonight

This is the kind of thing that could be annoying in the wrong hands, but Evaristo’s writing is so fluid that I honestly forgot that I was reading something other than standard English. I’m not sure what this stylistic choice added to the book, except in a few instances where she used lists or short fragments to call attention to some heightened emotion. For the most part, though, it was simply something that worked, meaning that it never took me out of the story and sometimes helped me get further in.

Posted in Fiction | 9 Comments

Call Down the Hawk

The interactions between the Lynch brothers were one of my favorite parts of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series, so I was delighted to learn that she would be writing a new series focusing on Ronan Lynch (with, presumably, a lot of attention paid to his brothers Declan and Matthew). And, indeed, the three brothers begin the book on a road trip (!!!!) to Cambridge, so Ronan can see his boyfriend, Adam, at Harvard and, perhaps, begin making plans to move there.

The idea of moving to Massachusetts is complicated by the fact that Ronan is a Dreamer, meaning that he can bring objects back from his dreams. This ability comes with a price — a sickness that appears if Ronan spends too many nights away from his home in Henrietta, Virginia. But Ronan wants to try it. Declan, Ronan’s buttoned up older brother, is worried about the idea. And he’s worried that Matthew, their younger brother, will learn the truth about his own origins.

So that’s the situation with the brothers as the book begins. As they’re trying to organize their lives and futures, other forces are brewing to make things difficult. A Dreamer named Hennessy is making a living as an art forger while trying to cope with the fact that she keeps bringing back doubles of herself from her dreams, and those doubles’ lives depend on Hennessy because it’s known that if a Dreamer dies, any living being brought back from the dream world goes to sleep forever.

At the same time, a woman named Carmen Farooq-Lane has been given the task of looking after a quirky and difficult young Visionary who can see the end of world, all while she seeks out Dreamers at the behest of her bosses.

Early on, these three stories operate on separate tracks and, for me, the book came to a screeching halt whenever it left the Lynch brothers. They have such delightful chemistry, well-established in the Raven Cycle, that I fell right into their story. Hennessy and Farooq-Lane don’t have the benefit of being pre-established characters that I cared about, and their stories don’t have anything close to the zing of the Declan brothers. But, over time, I got more interested in them. I was especially delighted by Farooq-Lane’s relationship with her exasperating young charge, Parsival. And when Hennessy and her dream doubles start getting to know the Lynch brothers, my interest in their lives increased as well. By the end, I was deeply invested in what was going to happen to this poor young woman who was both entirely on her own and responsible for an entire family.

This book is intended to be part of a trilogy, so the ending is open-ended, a cliffhanger even. And I’m already excited for the next book to come out in November!

Posted in Children's / YA Lit, Fiction, Speculative Fiction | 4 Comments

Among Others

Mori’s diary starts in September 1979, as she heads to a new boarding school in the country, after the school year has already started. Teenage Mori suspects she’s being sent to school so her aunts can be rid of her. She’s a stranger to them and to her father who lives with them. She’s with them only because the courts sent her to them after she ran away from her mother. Her mother who happens to be a witch and is somehow responsible for the death of Mori’s twin sister.

Among Others by Jo Walton is a book about aftermath. A lot of the drama happened before the book began. And now Mori is left to get on with it, and she chronicles each day of healing and recovery from September to February.

It’s not a smooth path because adolescence rarely is, and Mori has a lot of the typical problems of fitting in and figuring herself out. But, on top of that, she’s dealing with the loss of her sister and a leg injury that requires her to walk with a cane. She’s not always likable, but that’s largely because her diary is an outlet for her saddest and meanest thoughts, which she doesn’t share with others. It’s here that she expresses some of her snobbery about her schoolmates, for example. I suspect, though, that a lot of readers could, like me, relate to her particular type of teenage snobbery that arises in part out of the difficulty of finding your own people, who get what you get and like what you like.

Interestingly, as Mori joins a book group of fellow science fiction readers, a lot of her meanness evaporates. It’s almost as if she’s secure enough not to need to put up that barrier anymore. As for the book group, it’s a wonderful, intergenerational group that actually discusses the books. Science fiction fans will probably enjoy all the references to the books she and her friends read. I’ve only read a few of the books mentioned, so the references meant little to me, but it was fun to see their passion.

The book’s format, a series of daily diary entries has some negative effects on the pacing, as Mori describes certain day-to-day events in great detail but ends up compressing the climactic ending, when Mori must face down the magic that nearly killed her before. In a way, though, that didn’t bother me because the book isn’t really about the big climactic moments but about the doings of daily life. Spending more time on bus rides and bakery trips and book lists than on fairies and magical showdowns felt appropriate.

Posted in Fiction, Speculative Fiction | 5 Comments

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen

I loved Dexter Palmer’s previous book, Version Control, and so I knew I’d be interested in whatever he did next. However, I did not expect his next book to be about a woman who, in 1726, claimed to be giving birth to rabbits. Luckily, weird historical topics do not put me off at all — quite the opposite, really — so I got my hands on a copy of this right away. And it was so good.

Although Mary Toft (an actual real-life person) is the novel’s title character, the book focuses mostly on the men who surround her, most of them surgeons and their apprentices. The character we spend the most time with, and through whom we see most of the events, is Zachary Walsh, the son of a clergyman and apprentice to John Howard, the first surgeon to attend to Mary Toft when the bizarre births begin.

The book is concerned less with the actual births than with what it is like to believe a thing that cannot possibly be true, something that defies all reason, something that even goes against one’s own senses. The notion comes up again and again, for example, in a variation of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” that takes a darker turn than any version I know. Throughout the book, the idea of truth is often governed by the crowd, as seen when Zachary gets swept up in an unruly group of opera lovers yelling support of their own favorite singer. It’s all amazingly relevant to our own time, when being part of the right crowd seems more important to some than actually being right. And sometimes, the truth depends on who is in the room.

And then when God gets brought into it, the idea of truth gets even murkier. Belief in God requires a willingness to go along with something that cannot be scientifically proven, so rabbits being born of a woman could happen if God wills it. And once someone declares that God wills a particular thing, then to deny it seems like denying God. As a person of faith, I found this deeply unsettling, but I also know and have seen this kind of thing in action. There’s a scene in the book that shows exactly what can go on in the mind to cause someone to, in an act of faith, go against their own senses.

I don’t think, however, this book is particularly anti-faith. It is more pro-reason. One of the book’s most decent and likable characters presents a line of thinking that I appreciate. It’s also a line of reasoning that unlocks the truth of the story:

The Lord made us in his own image. It is also true that he made us creatures of reason — our minds are what differentiate us from the animals. Therefore the Lord must also be a being of reason, yes? Which means the Lord’s actions may be inscrutable to us, we being not as wise as him, but they would not be senseless. If this is a miracle, then it is a strange one, for, if its cause is truly unfathomable, if its sole purpose is to affirm God’s existence and force us to admit our ignorance and powerlessness before him, then the only course of action remaining to us is to abdicate the exercise of our reason, and abandon our attempts to comprehend it. Which would involve going against our very nature, as God created us. Which would, in turn, involve going against God’s nature.

As inscrutable as the Lord might be to us, what God would ask such a thing? To deny the very feature of our being that makes us what we are, that makes us what he is? For what reason?

In the end, reason is the way forward. But the book shows at least one example of supposed scientific reason being used to horrifying ends. (This incident almost made me want to stop reading as it involves cruelty to cats, something I find especially hard to stomach right now.)

However, I think this terrible incident shows that reason itself can be manipulated, if the crowd wants it enough. And so another principle, one of compassion and love, is needed. This is something that Palmer merely glances at, but it’s important. And the same ethic in the quote above could apply. God would not command people do to something unloving (like lock children in cages, as one example). To do so is to go against what God made us to be.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction | 8 Comments

The Water Dancer

There is a lot to like about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ debut novel. I appreciated, for example, the way he illuminates the complex relationships between the enslaved and those who enslaved them, especially when, as so often happened, those characters were actually blood-related. In this case, Hiram, the book’s main character is the son of his enslaver, Howell, who knows in her heart that Hiram is a more intelligent and worthy son that his dissolute white son, Maynard. Howell can know this but be part of and a supporter of a system that is built on the idea that Hiram isn’t exactly human.

I also liked the exploration of memory, which reminded me of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Here, memory is a source of terror and pain, as well as a source of power that so many enslaved black people were deliberately cut off from, as they were taken from their homes and separated from their families. And I (mostly) liked the way Coates made that memory power literal, by coming up with a supernatural storyline in which Hiram is able to use memory to create a path of escape.

However, the book as a whole didn’t work for me as well as I’d hoped. It’s an ambitious book, and I think it ends up being too ambitious, exploring so many ideas — the importance of family, the nature of freedom, the power of memory, the perils of allyship — and straddling so many genres — literary novel, historical fiction, speculative fiction — that it lacks a single firm and clear foundation.

As I was reading I kept thinking about Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which also creates a sort of fantasy version of the actual underground railroad. In Whitehead’s book, the railroad is the central feature, carrying the main characters from place to place (and, in a sense, across time). And Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (one of my favorite books of recent years) makes relationships the central idea, as Washington goes from place to place and has to navigate new kinds of relationships. I liked both of these books a lot better because they felt whole in a way that this book doesn’t.

I also was bothered by the way Coates depicts Harriet Tubman, imbuing her with powers she didn’t actually have. To me, it made her remarkable achievements, which haven’t been depicted in mainstream fiction nearly enough, seem less remarkable than they were. I don’t necessarily expect real historical figures to be depicted with absolute accuracy in fiction, but I often don’t like it when totally unlikely scenarios are posited. Other readers will of course feel differently about this kind of thing.

I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading this book who is interested in it. My view is, as best I can tell, an outlier. And I hope the upcoming Tournament of Books discussion will help me to see some of the book’s better qualities that I missed. But if you haven’t read The Underground Railroad or Washington Black, I’d recommend putting those on your list first.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Speculative Fiction | 6 Comments

2019 in Review

In a lot of ways 2019 felt like a pretty typical reading year for me. I finished 96 books, and my total is usually somewhere in the 90s. I read more books by women than men, and a little over a third of the books I read were by authors of color. My reading included a mix of old and new but skewed toward the new than I’d like, mostly because of my interest in the Tournament of Books. I didn’t read as many books in translation or books from outside the US and UK as I’d like, but more than in some years. So far, so normal.

As for my favorites of the year, I’ve narrowed it down to ten (first time reads only; otherwise, I’d have to add King Hereafter, which is an all-time favorite and difficult to beat in any year). Here they are, listed in the order that I read them:

  1. Broken Harbor by Tana French. My favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad books.
  2. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Unset. A masterpiece of historical fiction.
  3. Melmoth by Sara Perry. A perfect follow-up to Kristin Lavransdatter. Together, these books made for a fascinating exploration of the effects of sin and guilt.
  4. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. A harrowing story of abuse and how communities can turn toward evil.
  5. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. What seems like a great novel about a spinster finding her own way in the world takes a surprising turn that makes it even better.
  6. Lying Awake by Mark Salzman. A fascinating exploration of faith and doubt.
  7. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. This has a similar premise as The Sparrow, an all-time favorite, but this story of space evangelism goes in an entirely different direction that is equally harrowing.
  8. The Brontes by Juliet Barker. A fantastic biography that made me fall in love with the Brontes yet again.
  9. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. A thoughtful exploration of the long-term effects of trauma on a community, including those who are not necessarily the primary sufferers.
  10. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. A fabulous collection of stories that bend reality.

Honorable mentions go to Dopesick by Beth Macy, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Don’t Look Now by Daphne du Maurier, Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, The Pisces by Melissa Broder, Ninepins by Rosy Thornton, Big Sky by Kate Atkinson, They Shoot Horses Don’t They by Horace McCoy, Daisy Jones and the Six by Tara Jenkins Reid, The Heaven Tree trilogy by Edith Pargeter, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, and Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

The biggest change this year was that I took a long, unplanned blogging break for the first time since I started blogging in 2008. I’ve often said that, for me, writing about some of my reading just wouldn’t work. I write about all of it or none of it, and that proved to be the case. When I took a break, mostly because I wasn’t in the mood, I couldn’t get up steam again for months. But I missed having a journal with my own thoughts, so I started back up again this fall. I’m still not sure whether, or how long, or to what extent I’ll keep at it.

One thing I realized while I was on break was that I’m tired of so many opinions on everything. And that included my own. It was nice not to form opinions on all my reading for a while. My qualms are not so much about “right” and “wrong” opinions but about how opinions are complicated and often in progress. My blog is a place where I noodle around in my thinking. I don’t necessarily want to make a judgment, and I certainly don’t want my judgment to be perceived as the definitive one, or even my own final one. But is there a place for such noodling anymore?

Ideally, blogs are a place to open up conversation. I share my experience reading a book, another person shares theirs, and our different views open a book up to someone else in a way a that simple yay or nay from either of us would not. But conversation doesn’t happen so much on blogs these days. Comments are spread across the internet, onto Twitter, Goodreads, Litsy, Instagram, etc. I’ve experimented with all of these platforms, and there are things I like and dislike about all of them. For me, only a blog allows for the kind of concentrated thought I enjoy.

Yet, concentrated thought takes time, and maybe, without the conversation that arises out of a blog post, there are better ways I could spend my time. I liked assembling my short reviews of my reading while on break, so maybe I could do that each month, for record-keeping purposes, with longer posts for books that really got my brain going. But I’m such a creature of habit that I may end up only doing those monthly posts. And maybe that’s ok. I’ll just see where my mood takes me.

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Fleishman is in Trouble

For a long time, Toby Fleishman and his wife Rachel weren’t happy together, and the decision to divorce felt like a relief. But then, in the midst of the separation period, Rachel takes off for a yoga retreat, a day earlier than planned, and then … just doesn’t return, leaving Toby to manage their two kids on his own, all while juggling his career and his newly active dating/sex life.

At first glance, Fleishman Is in Trouble sounds like it’ll be some sort of Mr. Mom story, where the dad finally learns what the mom has had to manage all these years. But author Taffy Brodesser-Akner is up to something much more subversive and clever, and her storytelling method forces readers to reconsider all of their preconceived ideas about gender, sex, and marriage. You see, it turns out that Toby was, throughout the marriage, the more active and affectionate parent, while Rachel was working late nights and focusing on her career seemingly at the expense of the kids. But it’s even more complicated than that.

This novel could be compared to Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise in that the story we’re told at the start isn’t the complete story, and narrative shifts later in the book allow us to see the story in a new light. But I think the perspective shifts in this book are more complicated and interesting.

Early on in the novel, it becomes evident that this third-person narrative is actually a first-person narrative told by an interested observer, who happens to be a long-time friend of Toby’s, and she has her own agenda that becomes more clear as the book goes on as she uses Toby’s story to tell a larger story about marriage and a personal story about her own marriage. Her belief is that such a story will only be heard if it is told through a man’s perspective. It’s what she learned when on the staff of a men’s magazine, writing profiles about men:

In these monologues, I found my own gripes. They felt counted out, the way I felt counted out. They felt ignored, the way I felt ignored, They felt like they’d failed. They had regret. They said all the things I wasn’t allowed to say aloud without fear of appearing grandiose or narcissistic. I imposed my narrative onto theirs, like in one of those biology textbooks where you can place the musculature picture over the bone picture of the human body: I wrote about my problems through them.

That was what I knew for sure, that this was the only way to get someone to listen to a woman — to tell her story through a man. Trojan horse yourself into a man, and people would give a shit about you.

This is, essentially, her method in telling the story of Toby Fleishman, and later, of Rachel Fleishman. It’s not as simple as a role reversal story, however, with Toby taking the traditionally female role. Some of Rachel’s sufferings are very specific to women. I suspect, too, that Rachel’s actions would be read differently if she were a man. For myself, I could see that she was being irresponsible, but I could also understand her feelings, as I could understand Toby’s. Brodesser-Akner makes gendered expectations central to the story without allowing the dilemmas to either cut along clear general lines or entirely subvert them.

I imagine some readers will find their rich-people problems tiresome, but heartache in relationships is universal. Some might, like me, be inclined to think the Fleishmans would be better off if they were willing to accept a less luxurious lifestyle, but that very point turns out to be a bone of contention between them. How much is truly necessary?

And there’s always that additional narrator, imposing her narrative onto that of the Fleishmans, choosing which facts to reveal and when to reveal them. And we, the readers, interpret the book through our own narrative biases. I was suspicious of the Toby-centric perspective from the start because of my own biases. And, to some degree, my suspicions were correct, but not entirely. We’re not allowed to rest in our biases, which makes this book an interesting read, one that I suspect could spark many a heated conversation.

Posted in Contemporary, Fiction | 2 Comments